L’Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City

A two months Workshop organized by Carmen Belmonte, Elisabetta Scirocco and Gerhard Wolf

with Giovanna Ceniccola, Antonio Di Cecco, Piero Gilento, Pavla Langer, Luca Pezzuto, Jamie Sanecki, Beth Saunders, Daniel Screpanti

According to the catastrophe theories, a catastrophe occurs when a sudden and brief phenomenon results in a definitive change to a system that is unable to absorb its effects in a relatively short period of time. The earthquake that struck L'Aquila on April 6, 2009, registering 6.3 on the Richter scale, was a catastrophic event that created a rupture in the life of the city and its territory. Six years later, it is possible to observe the effects the disaster had on L'Aquila's monumental and art historical heritage, on the social dynamics, and on the relationships between places and community.

The study of L'Aquila as a post-catastrophic city raises a number of questions that go beyond interventions in specific fields – (re)construction, historic preservation, economic activity, social policy – and provoke a more general reflection on the impact of natural disasters on both the material structures of the city and its inhabitants: In what ways do they change the life and image of the city, as well as citizens' perception of it? Is it still possible to define cultural identities on a geographical basis in a globalized world, or does the catastrophe itself generate the need to recognize a local identity a posteriori? What roles do cultural, art historical, and monumental heritage play in all this? And what is the contribution of art history? What tools can art historians adopt to interpret the event in an interdisciplinary dialogue and to develop a methodology and models for interventions applicable in the present and the future?

These questions are at the center of the investigation conducted by the junior research group, "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City", established at the KHI from January-March 2015, composed of four art historians with diverse specializations, two architects (one specializing in restoration and the other in urban planning), an archaeologist, and a photographer whose work deals with the urban landscape. Starting from the methods of analysis particular to his or her own discipline, the participants created three sub-groups, which focus (1) on the reconstruction and reconfiguration of urban space, (2) on the politics of the dislocation and management of cultural heritage, and (3) on the representation(s) of the catastrophe's effects on the population and the territory. The issues that cut across these lines of investigation include: relations among territorial scales, different temporalities, and the possible interconnections between scholarly research and civic engagement. The goal of this two months' laboratory is a shared discussion of open questions, involving archaeology, art history, architecture, urban planning, and photography, in order to build models for the management of cultural heritage in a post-catastrophic phase conscious of citizens' needs.

Progretti di ricerca

Urban Space and Cultural Identity 

Giovanna Ceniccola, Piero Gilento, Daniel Screpanti

Catastrophic events cause a sudden rupture between the system of values and cultural representations and its specific place, as well as between that place and the human activities carried out there, which are main factors shaping the territory. The goal of this project is to examine the recomposition of cultural identities in urbanized territories struck by catastrophes, such as L'Aquila.

Through collaborative research, the group will investigate the reconstruction of urbanized territories, and the role that cultural heritage plays in the ongoing processes of tracing and redefining urban spaces.


The dislocation of cultural heritage: artistic and religious value vs. civic function? 

Pavla Langer, Luca Pezzuto, Jamie Sanecki

In addition to displacing people, natural disasters also cause the dispersal of artistic and religious objects that are often central to the identity of the affected communities. While much attention has focused on monumental heritage, restoration, social issues, and urbanism in a post-catastrophic situation, there has been little exploration of how to best reconstitute the links between objects of artistic and religious value and the territory and citizens to which they belong.

Starting from the case study of L'Aquila, this project analyzes the dynamics of dislocated objects in a post-catastrophic atmosphere in order to identify new solutions for managing mobile cultural heritage in a period of crisis.


Transformations and Representations: Landscape and Ways of Life 

Antonio Di Cecco, Beth Saunders

This project considers recent investigations into the nature of photography's capacity for documentation with regard to the landscape. The photographic representation of a post-catastrophic landscape necessarily results from the interaction between the experience of the photographer and the culture of the place s/he documents. Reading the landscape through its many layers and signs in order to understand how it conditions daily life is central to this investigation of how photography might be useful for citizens living in a place affected by disaster. In the case of contemporary photography at L'Aquila, the daily landscape becomes the focus of an argument about the ethics and aesthetics of representation that seeks to open up questions rather than supply answers.



Giovanna Ceniccola, Architect, PhD in Conservation of Architectural Heritage (University of Naples Federico II) with a thesis about the issues of preservation of historical theatres. Her research focuses on historic building techniques in Campania and on the theoretical and practical issues relating to the conservation of architecture, archaeological sites and historical landscape. She is currently working on abandoned historical towns. Her research for the project "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City" explores the role of cultural identities within the preservation processes of cultural heritage. 

Antonio Di Cecco was born in 1978 in L'Aquila, where he currently lives and works. Holding a degree in Architectural Engineering, he is concerned with photography of architecture and the urban landscape, as well as the analysis of processes of human intervention within sites. In April 2013, he published the volume In Pieno Vuoto. Uno sguardo sul territorio aquilano (Peliti Associati), edited by Benedetta Castelli Guidi, with a text by Laura Moro, director of the Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione. Within the research group "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City," he explores the possibility of translating the technical and scientific data contained in thematic maps into a photographic language, in order to interpret and reconstitute processes of modification to the cultural, social, and environmental characteristics of the territory. 

Piero Gilento, Archaeologist, received his PhD from the University of Siena on 2013. Since 2009 he collaborates, as independent researcher, within the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Abruzzo and the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici dell'Abruzzo in projects of preventive archaeology and archaeological assistance on the post-earthquake reconstruction of L'Aquila (his hometown) and its municipalities. His recent activities include the excavations of the Porta Barete complex in L'Aquila and of the church of San Pietro Apostolo di Onna (AQ). His main research interests are focused on building archaeology, traditional building techniques, archaeoseismology and architectural heritage recording. Within the research group "L'Aquila as Post-Catastrophic City", Piero analyzes the relationships between archaeology and the urban transformations of L'Aquila and its territory, and the dynamics of civic engagement of the local communities rediscovering their past after the catastrophe. 

Pavla Langer (M.A.) is currently a doctoral candidate in the History of Art at the University of Bonn, with a dissertation on "The gravesite of San Bernardino of Siena at L'Aquila in the context of saints' veneration in the 15th and early 16th centuries" (supervisor Georg Satzinger). Within the project "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City" her research explores the role of relics and cult objects in a post-catastrophic situation. 

Luca Pezzuto B.A., L'Aquila University, 2005; M.A., L'Aquila University, 2007; M.Phil, University of Siena, 2010; PhD, University of Rome - Tor Vergata, 2015 (expected), jointly funded by MIUR. Provisional thesis title: "Rinascimento eccentrico. Gli esordi di Cola dell'Amatrice e la pittura dell'Italia centrale nel primo Cinquecento" supervised by Prof. Simonetta Prosperi Valenti Rodinò. Fellow at the Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell'Arte Roberto Longhi, Florence, 2014-2015. His research for "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City" analyzes the civic responsibilities of public institutions in post-disaster situations. 

Jamie Sanecki (M.A., History of Art, Williams College; B.A., History of Art and English, Rutgers University) is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a specialist of medieval art and architecture and is completing a dissertation titled, "Cathedral and Commune: The Sculpture of S. Martino in Lucca." In addition, she has worked on curatorial projects and as a museum educator for several institutions, including the Williams College Museum of Art, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her research for "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City" focuses on the social and ethical responsibilities of art museums in post-disaster situations. 

Beth Saunders is a PhD candidate in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Her dissertation, "Developing Italy: Photography, History, and National Identity during the Risorgimento, 1839-1855," examines early Italian photographers' contributions to the construction and dissemination of a nationalist discourse in the period preceding Italy's political unification. Beth's fellowships include the Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Joan and Stanford Alexander Grant from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and a Marian and Andrew Heiskell Pre-Doctoral Rome Prize in Modern Italian Studies at the American Academy in Rome. Beth is currently Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her project for "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City" examines the role of photography in L'Aquila since the earthquake, focusing on the collective Confotografia. She contextualizes their work within recent trends in Italian contemporary photography in order to demonstrate how transformations to the landscape of L'Aquila and the identity of its citizens have been articulated through photographs. 

Daniel Screpanti, Architect and researcher at the Centro de Estudos de Arquitectura e Urbanismo, the R&D centre of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto, Portugal, in the group Territory Dynamics and Morphologies. PhD student at the University of L'Aquila, where he is developing a research on the representation of processes of construction and reconstruction of territories through the geography of work. Actor in the Italian acting company the O'scenici of San Benedetto del Tronto (AP). Within the project "L'Aquila as a Post-Catastrophic City", his research explores the evolution of the relationship between cultural geographies and daily topographies in the territory of L'Aquila, through methods of psychogeography.


Questo evento viene documentato fotograficamente e/o attraverso riprese video. Qualora non dovesse essere d’accordo con l’utilizzo di immagini in cui potrebbe essere riconoscibile,  da parte del Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz a scopo di documentazione degli eventi e di pubbliche relazioni (p.e. social media) la preghiamo gentilmente di comunicarcelo.


La nostra newsletter vi informa gratuitamente su eventi, annunci, mostre e nuove pubblicazioni del Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz.

Potrete riceverla gratuitamente, inserendo i vostri dati nei campi:

*Campo obbligatorio

Trattamento dei dati personali

La newsletter viene inviata tramite MailChimp, che memorizza il vostro indirizzo e-mail e il vostro nome per l'invio della newsletter.

Dopo aver compilato il modulo riceverete una cosiddetta e-mail "double opt-in" in cui verrà chiesto di confermare la registrazione. È possibile annullare l’abbonamento alla newsletter in qualsiasi momento (cosiddetto opt-out). In ogni newsletter o nell’e-mail double opt-in troverete un link per la cancellazione.

Informazioni dettagliate sulla procedura di invio e sulle possibilità di revoca sono contenute nella nostra privacy policy.